James consistently offers the comfort of a familiar sound and thoughtful lyrics.
British band James’s latest album, Girl at the End of the World, starts off with the tackiest of wah-wah effects—which go on for over two minutes. I was a bit worried: Was this the beginning of something I would have to pick my way through carefully?
Thankfully, the effects give way to the truly great intro track, “Bitch.” The song, like many parts of the album, concerns itself with our inability to be happy, or even to find happiness. Vocalist Tim Booth lists off truly beautiful things and then asks, “So why’d I bitch, bitch, bitch, bitch, bitch?” This song is followed by the earworm “To My Surprise,” which takes potshots at the privileged and clueless with the line, “Were you just born an asshole, rage in exile, you are that dish you cannot ta-a-a-a-aste.” [This 52-year old is just a little embarrassed to admit how good the word “asshole” sounds coming out of Booth’s mouth.]
Girl at the End of the World, James’s 14th album, is an impressive effort, especially by a band well into its fourth decade. There are few acts with the staying power of James, and fewer still with the credentials they offer: a start at Factory Records and a blessing from none other than fellow Mancunian Morrissey. Since its 1982 formation, the band has consistently offered the comfort of a familiar sound and thoughtful lyrics.
Yet James still seems to find a way to be subversive. Case in point are lyrics in tracks like “Dear John,” which starts out as a love song, only to show itself as a breakup offering on the grandest scale: “I wrote this song to tell you I’m leaving you/ Afraid to say these words to your face/ Must be better than a letter, text or email.”
James never sounds stale on their albums, but rarely do they stray too far from a formula that has served them well. They have found a voice that allows for the expression of thoughtful lyrics and the seeping in of messages, even this far into their career. Admittedly, there were times when I wished their rhyming dictionary was a bit further out of reach and the production was a little less formulaic—but then Booth’s voice comes over my speakers and I can’t help but be dragged in.
James is one of those bands that have a truly dedicated fan base, and you can understand why. With them, you are in it for the journey. The destination is nice, but each album is simply one more stop on a glorious path. B+ | Jim Dunn